Rate rise reprieve for Georges River residents

Rate rise reprieve

Georges River Council has deferred its proposal to apply for a rate rise until the next financial year while it investigates a reduction of staff costs.

Councillors voted 9:5 in favour of the deferral rather than applying to IPART for the Special Rate Variation (SRV) of 8.1 per cent on top of the 2.5 per cent rate peg.

The council was also going to apply for a harmonisation of the minimum residential rate, currently $571 in Hurstville and $942 in Kogarah and instead make it $965 for Georges River.

But deputy mayor Con Hindi lodged the amendment at last night's extraordinary council meeting calling for the council defer its submission to IPART for the harmonisation of minimums rates and application for a Special Rates Variation until the next financial year and allow the council to investigate staff reductions and salary reductions as part of future cost savings.

Cr Hindi was concerned that the council had increased the number of staff by 50 above levels at the former Kogarah and Hurstville councils.

"These staff seemed to be in middle and upper management. With all due respect, they are terrific people but as a structure it doesn't sit well," Cr Hindi said.

"We will not increase rates blindly," he said "We will increase rates when we know there has been a genuine attempt at reducing the number of staff.

"I've compared it with other councils. We've got more directors than anybody else. We need to reduce our costs."

General Manager Gail Connolly pointed out that there were a total of 52 directors and managers when Kogarah and Hurstville councils were amalgamated and that was reduced to 30 prior to the election of Georges River Council.

Ms Connolly was asked what the impact would be on essential services by not voting for the 10.6 per cent rate increase.

"There could be an impact to the number of times the streets are swept, the number of times the streets are patrolled by parking officers, the number of times the parks are mowed, the operating hours of libraries, or whether or not we have child care centres," she said.

"We would have to go back and review a range of services that we currently provide and see where reductions could be made."

Ms Connolly said that deferring the rate rise and harmonisation would not solve the problem.

The operating result will continue to decline and the council is required by the state government to harmonise the rates, she said.

Mayor Kevin Greene spoke against deferral.

"It has been shown clearly that not to take any action pushes the problem into the future and makes the problem greater," Councillor Greene said.

Operational costs without any action this year looking at $7 million as part of the budget.

Looking up to 10 years into the future it is $20 million a year.

"That's why we need to take action and quickly," he said. .

"Regarding rates harmonisation there is no doubt that a great impact will be felt by those who pay the minimum rate, which currently in Hurstville $571.

There's no denying I've never hidden behind it."

But the Special Rate Variation introduced by the former Hurstville Council in 2006 will end in 18 months meaning that $2.5 million will drop out of the budget that will need to be compensated.

"Sometimes you have to do things that people don't like but you have to have the courage of your convictions," Cr Greene said.

"Let's make the right decision for your community. Because if you don't and you defer it and the whole process will start again in July this year, because at some stage the rates will have to be harmonised. That is a fact."

Councillor Vince Badalati voted in favour of deferral.

"A lot of people are struggling out there. It (the increase) will flow down to the people who can least afford it but we are saying that these people can bear 80 per cent of the burden

"It is a matter of reducing expenditure. It is easy to go out and increase the rates.

"Why are we trying to put an impost on the ratepayers when we are not looking inhouse to see how we can decrease expenditure?

"In 2006 when we brought in the SRV it was for designated things such as footpaths and parks and for a designated time. This (SRV) is forever.

"We need to go to our community and say, yes we have tried to reduce expenditure so ratepayers don't cop it in the neck."

The majority of councillors agreed, voting for deferral to look at a reduction in costs.

Those voting for the amendment to defer were: Con Hindi, Lou Konjarski, Rita Kastanias, Vince Badalati, Nancy Liu, Leesha Payer, Nick Katrsi, Sam Elmir and Stephen Agius.

Voting against were: Kevin Greene, Warren Tegg, Kathryn Landsberry, Sandy Grekas and Colleen Symington.